Serena Williams withdrew from the Family Circle Cup on Wednesday, the biggest sports name to back the NAACP's boycott of South Carolina for flying the Confederate flag.
Williams, the sixth-ranked tennis player in the world, was the first to commit in January to the yearly clay court tournament at Sea Pines Racquet Club. But she rethought the decision last month when told of the flag controversy.
"My decision to not play in South Carolina was based on a much deeper issue and one that I feel strongly about," said Williams, the 18-year-old star who last September became the first black woman in more than 40 years to win a Grand Slam title when she won the U.S. Open.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is leading an economic boycott of South Carolina until the flag is removed from the Statehouse. Since the boycott's Jan. 1 start, sporting events have been more involved.
- The New York Knicks of the National Basketball Association pulled out of a pre-playoff draft camp in Charleston.
- USA Track and Field condemned the flag before the women's Olympic marathon trials two months ago in Columbia and several runners wore ribbons in support of the boycott.
- Penn State University's baseball team wore red armbands in support of the NAACP's position during baseball games at Winthroon in calling for the NCAA to remove its men's basketball regional, scheduled for Greenville in 2002, if the flag still flaps atop the capitol dome.
- The Atlantic Coast Conference has asked its schools to stay in North Carolina during next month's baseball championships in the border city of Fort Mill.
"We're delighted that Williams has indicated her solidarity," said Dwight James, executive director of the state NAACP.
Flag supporters say it honors Southern heritage; opponents say it is a symbol of racism and slavery.
The state Senate began debate Wednesday on what to do with the flag, which was first flown in 1962. It can be removed only by state lawmakers.
This year would have marked Williams' Family Circle debut. She withdrew from last year's tournament with tendinitis in her right knee.
Bart McGuire, head of the Sanex WTA Tour, said he respects the views of players who feel "that their presence at an event would jeopardize their moral and ethical standards."
State tourism officials said this week they had to do some last-minute convincing to keep the sponsors of the LPGA Tour's Kathy Ireland greens.com event from withdrawing from the Murrells Inlet tournament in June.
Just last week, the football and basketball coaches from the University of South Carolina took part in a march supporting the removal of the flag.